Then again, few D.J.'s spend their downtime living the club life they make possible. "It's pretty much the last thing you want to do," according to Morales. Todd Terry agrees: "When you're home, you're in the studio. You get a remix job, get started in the studio on a Monday. By Wednesday, you're almost done. Thursday, you have to leave for a gig overseas. You're back Sunday night, jet-lagged Monday, got meetings Tuesday. Finally, you get back to the studio on Wednesday and try to finish. When do you have time to go out?"
"People don't believe it," says Van Helden, "but most D.J.'s, especially American D.J.'s, don't party at all."
According to Moby, "there are two kinds of D.J.'s. One gets completely immersed in the scene, stays out every night till 6 a.m., drinks, and takes tons of drugs, and is not only a D.J. but a participant in the scene. The other is the kid who's sort of shy and retiring. He's been obsessed with music and records his whole life, never really expecting to do much with them, and suddenly realizes he's the center of the party, but is basically a geek who wants to stay at home in front of a computer. It almost breaks down to Dionysian versus Apollonian. I've met a lot of the Dionysian types, and they tend to burn out, quickly."
Terry concurs, without referring to Greek archetypes: "You can't do a good job of playing and mixing records and be on five pills of ecstasy and special K and shit."
To the uninitiated, theirs is a world that can be hard to understand. And though it's rife with friendly competition -- and even the occasional feud -- it fosters a sense of community. "I'll go out with Todd Terry, and Junior Sanchez is one of my best friends," says Van Helden. "Sometimes when we do go out, at around 5:30 or 6 in the morning, we'll stop at the flea market on Sixth Avenue and 25th Street. It's just opening up, and there's this guy there who sells old records for a dollar each. We'll go and get like two or three hundred of them."
"Everyone knows each other," says Danny Tenaglia. "Not everyone is best friends, you know -- it's the music business -- but you see each other. And I think the guys from here keep a little bit of a closer eye on each other."
"It's a little weird," says Terry. "We all used to be club kids. Now we're more likely to go to smaller bars, and we're not into the crazy shit we used to be. Back in the day, we were all hustlers, going through hard times. Most of our mommies and daddies didn't buy us turntables. Most of us have some grit, went through the times when there was no heat, no food in the fridge, and you have one turntable and a drum machine in the basement and you got to make life happen right there. Not getting the star treatment in New York doesn't seem like such a big deal in comparison."
That, too, might be about to change. At least, that's what Tom Sisk and David Baxley are betting. Part owners of the East Village lounges Aubette and Drinkland, the two recently opened the Flatiron area club Centro-Fly. Notably, it's in the space formerly occupied by Tramps, one of the city's venerable rock clubs. In order to attract the kind of top D.J. talent that in turn draws crowds, they put in a space-age command-center-style D.J. booth and an aggressively high-end sound system.
"There became this ritual at our places downtown, customers telling, asking, begging to dance," says Sisk. "And we saw statistics saying turntables have been outselling guitars. We saw D.J.'s becoming pop stars everywhere else in the world, and we began to realize that people don't care about seeing a live rock act anymore. They want to see and hear a D.J."
Mike Bindra, the general manager of Twilo, the city's largest club and one of the country's preeminent venues for D.J.'s, agrees. "In this city, for years, 99 percent of the people who went to clubs had no idea, or could care less, who was D.J.'ing," he says. "It was all about drink tickets, guest lists, and VIP rooms. Now it's all about who's spinning."
Unlike Twilo, which packs in over a thousand rave kids who dance to English D.J.'s like Sasha and John Digweed, "we're after an older, more sophisticated crowd," says Baxley. "More like the people going to our lounges. We think those people are ready to come out for top D.J.'s. In a nutshell, that's our bet -- to be here offering big-name D.J.'s just as big-name D.J.'s are becoming the commodity."
Right now, that commodity is priced at a premium, which is why so few top New York D.J.'s regularly perform in their hometown. "We can't afford to pay an Armand Van Helden what he can get somewhere else," Baxley says. "We have to appeal to their hometown loyalty and explain that we're trying to add to the D.J. scene in New York in a way that's cool and authentic." So far, it's working: Eric Morillo's weekly Thursday-night "Subliminal" party recently reeled in the big fish of New York nightlife, Leonardo DiCaprio.
While there are New York clubs that regularly feature homegrown D.J. talent -- specifically Vinyl, which features Louis Vega on Wednesdays and Danny Tenaglia on Fridays -- it's rare to hear a New York D.J. at Twilo. "Now in New York, the hottest D.J.'s are European," says Bindra. "I know about all the New York guys who are huge in Europe but can't really get a proper gig in New York. That's too bad, and I wish it weren't true, but we have a big space here and we need to fill it. I mean, even Armand, he's like Madonna in England. Here, he's respected, he's got his fans, but he can't fill a room with 2,000 people. Not yet, at least. Then again, his records aren't in the top five on the pop charts here."